Consider Going Global From the Start
Allowing borders to dictate the limits of your business could mean you're missing out on a huge opportunity.
"If you have a product business and you aren't focused on international, you are missing out on two-thirds of your potential customers," said Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey, to serial entrepreneur Michael Fertik in his most recent Harvard Business Review post.
Traditionally, you'd start with the U.S. market and stay there, often for several years, because it's worth twice as much as the European market and three times that of going to Asia.
That was true once, but it's not anymore. The whole world is fast becoming one market — and money is a universal language uniting all, whether you're selling in China, marketing to the French or closing a deal in New York City. It may be a happy accident, but it's just as easy to generate revenue internationally as it is to do with your home base clientele.
Still, an overseas launch is not for the faint of heart, and there's some things you should consider before crossing the pond.
First, partner with someone local, advised Michael Michelini, founder of the barware company Parallel Phenomena. Going it alone takes a great deal more time, energy, and money to get the lay of the land and find your groove. Someone fluent in the local culture can grease the wheel of transition and add a valuable new skill set to your enterprise.
Another key prep step: Research, research, research. Educate yourself about local regulations, particularly the nuances of labor and tax codes. If your budget permits, secure a top-notch accountant and lawyer.
"It's critical to obtain good, local legal advice," said Burton Landy, chairman emeritus of the international practice group at the Miami law firm Akerman Senterfitt, to Microsoft Business. "You're not only dealing with a different legal system, you may be dealing with a different language and culture as well."
You should also understand the current political climate. Shaky political conditions may deter potential investors, and a wobbly government may not provide the economic support your business will need. And if the legislation affecting the launch of a business changes, you could be back at square one.
Access to raw materials and skilled workers is also important, and these essential components are more plentiful in some places than others, Andrew J. Sherman and David J. Levine of the law firm McDermott Will & Emery recently said. Having to import materials or go through a complex process to recruit and train workers could completely change your business model (and start-up costs).
JULIE STRICKLAND | Staff Writer
Julie Strickland covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurial endeavors of all kinds for Inc. Her work has been published in Brooklyn Based and City Limits in New York, the Free Times in Columbia, SC, Real Travel Magazine in London, and Daegu Pockets in South Korea. She lives in New York City.